Introduction and Purpose
The medical field has shown a growing interest in gender and differences between men and women in health and disease. Gender is a powerful societal organizing principle. Men and women usually experience different social and organizational opportunities and constraints.
To receive a diagnosis of cancer is a dramatic life event. It is a special challenge for a person’s resources to deal with the transformation of the view of oneself from being a healthy person to being a person affected by cancer. Men and women experience being diseased by cancer differently. Compared to several other places in the world, Saudi Arabia is low in the list of cancer occurrence. But there are a few things that are unique when it comes to cancer. I have focused my research on cancer patients who live in Saudi Arabia. Observation and previous studies are the main instruments that I have used in my research paper.
I found that the number of studies that have been focused on this particular topic are very few. I chose this topic because I want to call attention to cancer patients who need everyone in society to be with them during their suffering period. In this paper, I will address topics such as attitude towards diagnosis of cancer, differences between men and women who have been diagnosed with cancer and support and treatment of cancer patients in Saudi Arabia.
Location and Population Distribution
Saudi Arabia is a vast country extending over four-fifths of the Arabian Peninsula. It stretches from the Arabian Gulf in the east to the Red Sea in the West. It is approximately 2,149,700 square kilometers in area and is divided into 13 administrative regions. Riyadh, the capital, is located in the central eastern part of the country.
Saudi Arabia’s geography is dominated by the Arabian Desert. It is well known for oil production. It represents about a quarter of the world’s known oil supply. As of 2001, It was the largest producer and exporter of oil in the world. It is a country rich in minerals. Large deposits of gold, silver, iron ore, copper, bauxite, coal, tungsten, phosphates, lead and zink. Saudi Arabia and specifically the Hejaz, as the cradle of Islam, has many of the most significant historic Muslim sites including the two holiest of Mecca and Medina.
The population of Saudi Arabia was estimated at 27,136.977 inhabitants in 2010. Between January and December, 2007, the total number of cancer incident cases reported to the SCR was 12,309. Overall, cancer was slightly more among women than men. Cancer affected 48.6% males and 51.4% females.
Attitude Towards Diagnosis of Cancer
In Saudi Arabia, the majority of newly diagnosed cancer patients have been unaware of their diagnosis. In a study by Mahmoud Al-Ahwal , 60.6% of patients want to be told the truth about the diagnosis of cancer. With regards to who should be provided this information, 66.7% of patients want both the patient and his/her relatives to be informed. This is because the degree of social and psychological support the family offers to the patient and because of the strong relationship between members in Saudi community. Families always believe that patients shouldn’t be left alone to handle the stress of knowing the bad news or making decisions. I felt sorry when I saw one of my relatives left her home to live with her son and his four children when he was diagnosed with cancer. Although she was an old woman, she preferred to stay with her son and help him to regain health.
Educational efforts towards public awareness that cancer is a treatable disease with a potential for cure have a major role in early diagnosis and cure. This, as well as psychological support, will relieve the anxiety of the public about the diagnosis, treatment of cancer and its consequences.
Differences Between Men and Women Who Have Been Diagnosed with Cancer
Cancer is a major life-threatening disease. In psychosocial oncology, some studies suggest that men and women cope differently with cancer e.g. women express their emotions more readily than men do and men rely more on their healthy spouse. In a study, 83 men and women were asked to write down how they experienced receiving their cancer diagnosis. The women wrote longer, more personally, and more emotionally than the men. They included family members and other relatives in their stories. When the men mentioned relatives, they mainly referred to their spouse. Within psychosocial oncology the research about gender differences has focused on two main areas: help-seeking behaviour (including reporting symptoms, visiting health care, relation to spouse, social support, and attending support groups) and psychosocial adaptation (including coping, emotionality, and quality of life measures).
Concerning help-seeking, it is a well established fact that for most symptoms and diseases women perceive more health problems and make more visits to health care than men do. It is often suggested that these differences are related to childbearing experiences and women having a greater responsibility for their family’s health. Men, on the other hand, are less likely to report symptoms since, for example, their masculinity restricts their ability to see themselves as vulnerable. However, to date, researchers have not found significant differences in men and women in seeking medical care for cancer. Research about social support is inconsistent, but it often seems as if men have limited networks of support. If they have support, it is confined to their spouse whereas women to a greater extent rely on other family members and friends. Furthermore, in a study by Keller and Henrich, the men seemed to value their healthy wife’s support more than the women valued their healthy man’s support. Men also tend to participate to a lesser extent than women in support group activities.
The results of gender-specific psychosocial adaptation are not perfect. Generally, it is widely held that men prefer active problem solving coping whereas women prefer the use of social support and emotionally focused ways to deal with the situation. In a study of social barriers to emotional expression in cancer patients, the participating women more than the men tended to express emotions. When participating in separate support groups, the women seemed to prefer to share emotions while the men preferred to share information.
Through my observation, some of my relatives who have been diagnosed with cancer behave differently. Although they are from different cities in Saudi Arabia-Jeddah, Riyadh, Dammam, I have noticed that male cancer patients always have fears of death and a sense of loss of hope more than female. Men seem to be more depressed and despondent than women.
Support and Treatment of Cancer Patients in Saudi Arabia
Cultural and social factors in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia play a major role towards supporting cancer patients. Some family members of Saudi cancer patients believe that telling the truth to patients could lead to harm and suffering while other families see that patients have the right to know the truth and to receive information about their diagnosis and illness. In a study by Ali Al-Amri, only 39% of the men and 70% of the women with cancer wanted to share information with their family members.
Treatment for Saudi cancer patients is free.
There are some great oncology units in Saudi particularly King Faisal Hospital in Riyadh, which many Saudis go to when they are diagnosed. There is another treatment center in Al-Khober which is King Khalid Hospital. These two hospitals have professional doctors and excellent medical staff. The medications are extremely cheaper in Saudi than other countries. Insurance is a new thing in Saudi so perhaps that has kept the costs low. Other countries can learn from Saudi on how to keep drug costs so low. Unfortunately, some cancer medications are not available in this country. This push some patients whose cases are very dangerous to travel abroad to find special treatment.
Cancer places everybody on equal ground. Regardless of education, finances and lifestyle. We are all candidates for cancer. This disease does reward every person with the opportunity to concentrate on the important things in life.
I think that we have not to speak of cancer as something shameful. We have to be more aware of cancer, early diagnosing and treatment. Cancer patients need to know that they are not alone, they are not losing their mind to think and generate.
Salander, P. & Hamberg, K. (2005). Gender differences in patients’ written narratives about being diagnosed with cancer. Psycho-Oncology, 14, 684-695.
Al-Amri, A. (2010). Saudi cancer patients’ attitudes towards disclosure of cancer information. Middle East Journal of Cancer, 1(4), 175-180.
Al-Eid, H. & Manalo, M. (2011). Cancer incidence and survival report.
Al-Ahwal, M. (1998) Cancer patients’ awareness of their disease and prognosis. Annals of Saudi Medicine, 18 (2).
Prepared by: Muneera Saleh Al-Ghamdi
Supervised by: Prof. Alaeddin Hussain